Paul Dewland - Strengthen Your Mental Game to Improve Your Performance
Fitness For All Podcast: Episode 9
Welcome to another edition of Fitness for All with Cam Jenkins, sponsored by Lebert Fitness.
In this episode, Cam talks with Paul Dewland, a Performance Coach. He has over 20 years experience in performance coaching. His client list includes players from the PGA Tour, European Tour, LPGA Tour, Ryder Cup team members, Korn Ferry Tour, Champions Tour, Symetra Tour, European Senior Tour, PGA Tour Canada, PGA Latin America, and several other professional tours. He also works with top level amateurs including several National Amateur Champions, Division I and II college players, and two National Golf Teams. Paul lives in Orlando, Florida and is a Certified Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (INLPTA).
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*The following podcast has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Show Notes - Episode 9
Welcome to another edition of the Fitness for All podcasts. We have Paul Dewland on the line.
Thanks very much for being on the podcast, Paul.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
I really want to get into your journey of being a mental performance coach and exactly what that is. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah. Mental performance is kind of a funny way to describe it. It's not my favourite word for it, but it's the one people use. So, I kind of go with it. When it comes to an athletic performance, which is I think what we're really going after here; I work with golfers. I work with professional golfers, as well as highly ranked amateurs and college players, and really good juniors. Most of the time when someone has a really elite performance for themselves, they'll describe the way they felt. They were pretty calm. There wasn't much mental activity. They weren't thinking a lot. They weren't thinking positively. They weren't thinking negative. They were just doing their thing. They were playing, in the case of a golfer, they were playing golf. So, as I describe it to most people, to give the story about what I do is if I put a two by four in the ground and said, walk along with it, most people could do that pretty easily. But if you take the same piece of wood and put it 50 feet in the air and ask a person to walk on that, it's a very different experience that they would have.
So on the ground, their system is in a certain condition or what I call state; there's a state their system is in. Mentally, physically and emotionally. In the air, it's a different state, the way we feel is going to be different, some of the thoughts that might occur would be different, and some of our physical movements might be different. There might be shakiness and physically, you'd be more careful in taking steps than you would on the ground.
So, a mental performance coach in my case, is to help people get into the state that they get in on the ground when they're 50 feet in the air. So for professional golfers, if you've got a short putt for a win, those are easy putts, quote-unquote, when you practice. But it's a completely different experience when you're playing. And to put yourself in a place where you can execute the way you would in a casual environment, in a tournament. This would apply to people giving speeches or going into a job interview or going into an experience or an environment that's new and uncomfortable for them.
Especially if you're going to an environment that is a bit uncomfortable. What can you control and what can't we control either as an athlete or just as a person doing a nine to five job? What is it that we can and can't control?
So as it relates to any skill, let's take handwriting as an example. If anybody is listening to this, grab a piece of paper and a pen and write your name. So, if you want to pause this and grab the piece of paper, then continue, that's probably a good idea. So grab a piece of paper and write your name it just the way you always would and then duplicate it, like write it again, but duplicated this time so it's exactly a carbon copy of what you just did. You'll be there for years. The human nervous system is not designed to duplicate movement. We do, however, have the ability to tighten up the consistency in our writing. So, when we're children and we learn how to write, the letters are all very different from each other. One A doesn't look anything like the other A or B or C, but as we practice, there's more consistency; we reduce the variability between those letters, but we never eliminate variability in a sport like golf.
People are thinking they want to perfect their swing and that's just impossible. So you actually don't control the actual execution of skills, whether it's hockey, basketball, tennis, golf, whatever it is, you don't control the execution, but you do control the preparation. What has become very apparent to me is that when people prepare in a precise and consistent manner for a game, for a shot during a round of golf, for whatever sport or pursuit, for a speech, for an interview, when you prepare properly, you do everything you can, you rehearse, you practice. What you'll find is that you will invite the highest level of consistency or the lowest level of variance that you can with whatever it is that you're doing.
As it pertains to the golfers that you help perform better, what difference, do you see in a person that has, say, a string of bad games or tournaments compared to a person that's had a string of good or great games or tournaments?
First and foremost, golf is a physical game, as is any sport. So, going back to the walking metaphor on a piece of wood, if you don't have the skill to walk down very well, then you're not going to be able to walk whether it's on the ground or in the sky. First and foremost, we have to make sure that the physical skills have been properly practiced and repped out in a way that there's some consistency when they're practicing. If they can do it consistently when they practice, but they can't do it consistently in a performance environment, then it's a “mental thing”, that's on my side of things. So, in the case of the two by four, if you can't walk very well because you just haven't exercised or walked very much as a young child, you can have them as calm as you want, 50 feet in the air. If they can't walk properly, then they're not going to be able to go across that piece of wood; the skill has to be there first, that's always the first thing. You can have all of the right mindset and attitude you want and be as calm as anything but if you don't have the skill, you're not going to perform.
As far as skills go, are there certain skills for most of your athletes that you concentrate on more than others, or are they all on the same level playing field?
In my area of work, there are certain fundamentals, just like there is in every sport. In golf, there are fundamentals such as how you grip the club, how you stand, where your ball position is, whether or not you align to the target. Those are the fundamentals of golf, instruction. In my area, there are certain fundamentals that have to be in place. One of the biggest ones that I find that I'm almost consistently working on with people who aren't performing to their capability, is the ability to control where their attention is. So, the ability, you could call it focus, you could call concentration; the ability to put your awareness or your attention on what you want, for the period of time while you're executing what you're doing. I find quite often that if someone in a golf tournament is thinking too much about the outcome of their shot, which we don't control, we don't control where the ball goes in golf, we don't control our swing even just like we don't control writing our name, but we do control whether or not we prepare properly. Holding yourself accountable to being properly prepared for a shot, collecting information, rehearsing your swing, whatever it may be that people do, when the preparation is the best it can be, then you're going to get the best out of the skill you have in that case.
I call that access to the skill. So, for most people walking on the ground on a two by four, they have full access to their walking skills, 50 feet up, they lose a considerable amount of access to their skills if they're scared. So, same in golf. If you focus on what you control, such as "I control, preparing, I control checking the wind, I control visualizing my shot". All of those types of things that a golfer would do. I don't know how many golfers are going to be on this podcast, but if you don't play golf, then you can probably imagine what this is for whatever sport or activity you're engaged in as a listener. You can only control the preparatory steps, getting yourself ready to do it, whether or not the shot goes where you want, that's going to be more up to how consistently you've worked on the skill, and how consistent you've been in your practice. That's a huge piece. The practice is such an enormous part of the performance because, even the best people mentally are going to have some type of emotional reaction to a situation if it's a big deal. When your skill is well developed because of consistent repetition, when you practice; the way you practice and the mindset you practice in, your skill doesn't break down nearly as easy when you've put in the right number and the right quality of repetitions. So, with golfers, the problem comes when they start tinkering or they don't practice enough and then they think it's a mental problem. Quite often you just haven't done the work.
Going along with the emotional part of being able to concentrate more, and from the research I've done, you are a big proponent of meditation. Can you let the listeners know why you are a big proponent of meditation?
There are several different types of benefits. There are different types of meditation. Meditation is sort of a generic term. The type of meditation that I'm a big proponent of is a very simple one, where you hold your attention on a certain aspect. Let's say you're feeling your breathing in your body. So, if you close your eyes and put your experience on feeling yourself breathe, most people will be able to do that for a certain amount of time, but then their attention will drift off into something in their environment or a certain thought that their attention will drift to.
Number one is developing the ability to hold your attention where you want it for an extended period of time, this is just like building a muscle and fitness. You have to challenge that muscle. So, holding your attention in one place for extended periods of time is kind of like holding, let's say, a ten-pound dumbbell in your hand and putting your arm, parallel to the floor, holding it for a certain amount of time. It'll start to shake and it'll fail. But then if you continue to do that, I think that's called isometric exercise. I don't know the term for that. If you do that, then, you know, eventually your ability to hold that weight will extend. These days, with people's attention, the ability to control their attention is diminishing rapidly with all the advancements in technology, especially younger kids that are sort of addicted to their social media and having a hard time keeping their attention on any one thing for a long period of time. So that to me, is the skill of all skills and it is a skill anybody can get better at it.
You have to practice it. It's not an enjoyable practice for a lot of people. They're not used to that sort of thing. It's just like someone starting a fitness program. It's like, man, this is hard. I don't like this. It's not what I'm used to. So, for anyone starting out on something like this, it would require a great deal of patience. But literally, that little simple exercise I just mentioned is the one I recommend to all the players I work with; just hold your attention on the feeling of yourself breathing, whether it's in your nose, your chest, your throat, and hold your attention in that location, in your body for extended periods of time. When it drifts, just bring it back and do that for ten minutes a day. I can promise that anyone who consistently practices that will find that their ability to stay engaged in what they're doing with their attention will extend and it will deepen. Your ability to engage in what you want to do, to perform at the level you want is going to improve.
You've been a performance coach for 20 years plus. How have you found technology to be different from 20 years ago to today, or do you use any technology with what you're doing to help golfers?
Yeah, I use a couple of things. There's so much out there now. A couple of the main things that I use. One is something that measures heart rate variability. To measure heart rate variability directly, which indicates certain activities in the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, I know that's all technical, but it's basically the fight or flight reaction where people are scared, nerves, whatever you want to call it. There's something called Heart Math. They have these products called 'EM Wave' that measure your heart rate variability and give you feedback on what's happening with that part of your system. There are also certain activities that they subscribe to get your heart rate variability under control, which is therefore getting your nervous system under control. There's another product I like a lot that is a very simplistic but very accurate EEG, which measures brainwave activity. In other words, measuring the amount of thought activity that's going on that really supports meditation quite nicely. It's called Muse. It's actually a Canadian company based in Toronto. It's just a simple headband that you put on. There's an app you put on your phone and it connects to Bluetooth and it gives you some really meaningful exercises that give you feedback about how much mental activity is going on. Part of the problem with people who meditate is that they don't even know that there's mental activity going on. So, this helps reveal the subconscious stuff, that helps reveal that there are thought patterns occurring that you're not aware of and that can help raise your awareness of oh, yeah, I'm thinking again versus just experiencing the feeling of my breath.
What's the most important piece of advice you can give to the listeners as it pertains to mental performance?
Well, attention control is a big one; if you can't control your attention, then you're going to basically drift your awareness into things that you don't control. As I define it, anxiety, frustration, and pressure come from setting goals we don't control. So, if I were with the golfer and I had a big stick in my hand and I said that if you hit a bad shot here, then I'm going to hit you really hard with a stick. Obviously, they're not going to feel great, they're going to be scared because they don't control where the golf ball goes, or if I was with someone speaking to a group of people and I said, make sure everybody loves your speech. Well, you don't have any control over that. But if I held a stick and said, prepare to the best of your ability with the shot, or I will hit you with it. Well, the golfer can have a lot of confidence that he's not going to get hit because he has complete control over the preparation steps. And the same with the speaker, just like, look, have you prepared properly? Did you rehearse as much as you can? Did you understand your audience? All those things that a good speaker would need to do. It's like, OK, you've done the best you can get up there and do your job. Whatever happens, isn't really any of your business. It's great feedback, but that's not something you completely control, so let that go and just do your job and speak well and see what happens.
That's great advice that you've given us today. I just want to say thank you very much for being on the podcast. We do appreciate it. If people wanted to reach out to you on social media or email, how could they get in contact with you?
I have a website called www.pauldewland.com and just go into the contact section and you can send a form through and that's where they can find me.
Perfect. Paul, thank you very much for being on the Fitness for All podcast, by Lebert Fitness and we hope to have you on the podcast again. Yes, thanks again.
Key Takeaways From This Episode:
Contact Paul Dewland at:
- Website: https://www.pauldewland.com/
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/paul-dewland-0810b917/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/pauldewland
- Lebert Fitness